We live in a culture of extremism. When we tip the scales out of balance, we think jumping to the other side will balance it out. Instead all we do is wind up jerking the scale around. This is very true when it comes to weight gain and loss. Weight gain is easy. It means a sedentary lifestyle, poor eating habits, less movement. Weight loss on the other hand is a direct result of our effort. The instinct then, is to put in as much effort as possible for the quickest result. We jump from sitting on the couch to running marathons, eating paleo, and doing Crossfit. This is not sustainable, and in fact, is often a recipe for burnout. How many people have you met that “used” to be marathon runners? Did they seem fit? I’ve heard a lot of potbellies tell me how fit they used to be over the years. Not impressive.
Exhibit A: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Ok so obviously Arnold is one of the extremists of the bunch. Not every Olympic athlete drops all motivation the second the Spice Girls close down the ceremony (which was awesome by the way). Some people thrive on competition and that carries into the rest of their lives. These are the kinds of people you see running Ironmans and competing in the Olympics. If you are one of those types, go for it! But if you weren’t a born competitor, and find yourself entering races for the sake of losing weight- chances are you are in yo-yo mode. The results of this are typically a life-long struggle between rapid weight loss and even more rapid weight gain.
Exhibit B: Coco Chanel
Timeless and classic. I just love her. The French really understand the importance of lifelong equilibrium. The key to timeless beauty and a svelte waistline is a simple one: Move more, exercise less. (and portion control bien sûr).
Movement Not Exercise
So for today, let’s reverse engineer our psyche to understand the difference between strenuous exercise and sustainable movement. Exercise means putting on gym clothing, doing an activity, showering, and taking up precious time in your life. Movement should be an enjoyable part of your everyday life. Think things you can do in your day clothes. Here are some ideas to get you on the path toward more sustainable movement:
- Instead of running… walk to the farmers market.
- Instead of going to the gym… take the stairs.
- Instead of swimming laps… ride your bike to work.
- Instead of Bikram yoga… take a vinyasa class.
- Instead of hitting the hotel spa… walk a few laps around the airport while you wait.
- Instead a lunchtime sweat session… walk to a park or restaurant.
- Instead of doing a triathalon… wash your dishes by hand.
- Instead of a Crossfit… park far away and walk.
- Instead of a spin class… meet friends for a ballet class.
When I studied abroad in Paris, France I lived with the stereotypical french couple. My temporary papa was a grouchy, mean old man who expected his wife to clean up after him, change the TV channel for him, and wipe his little mouth when he was done eating. He also hated me. And only partially because he hated President Bush and thought he needed to lecture me on what a horrible choice I made when I voted (I didn’t vote for him FYI, just a French thing).
My maman was the meaning of the phrase: c’est la vie. She was cheerful, loved strolling through parks, drinking wine, carrying baguettes under her arm, and wandering the markets. Most of all though, she loved food. Cooking was definitely her forte. We are talking 7 course meals every night. Come on people. That is ridiculous (and oh so good!). I was in paradise. (This was pre-discovering my food allergies thank heaven!) I never asked what was in the food, although I did receive hints from time to time (I once found an entire parrot perched in the fridge, and there was once a hoofed leg sticking out of the cupboard).
The first time I was called to dinner and saw the feast before me, I was in total heaven. Unfortunately, one bite in, cranky pops took this as his first opportunity to reprimand me. “You impolite American! What do you think this is? A hotel? How rude of you to come into my home and treat my kitchen as if it were feeding trough. You eat like a slob.”
Ouch. Ok, so papa is more than just a grouch. But could he also be a bit true? I mean, compared to them I did look like I was shoveling it in. I’ve never seen such impeccable eating before in my life. And it took hours! We sat at that table deep into the night testing my French, sipping wine, and slowly working our way through each course. I eventually taught myself to eat like them and by the end of my four months I was completely enamored by the ritual and pleasure they bestowed upon eating. We don’t do it like that here and our waistlines suffer as a result. Here’s how to eat like a Parisian (and also how to keep svelte, love life, and eat passionately):
- A French Table There was always a vase of flowers, cloth napkins, candlelight. We sat at a small table and ate off small plates. We were served beautiful flower sized portions one course at a time and drank wine that rested in a decanter. There were different utensils and rotating plates or bowls for each thing we were served. It was beautiful!
- Variety is Key We covered every color of the rainbow in one meal. The only thing that was constant was a salad for an appetizer and a fruit course for dessert.
- Savor Simply learning to eat with passion was the best thing I learned. My maman would close her eyes as she enjoyed each bite as if it were a delicacy. We would talk about food as we ate it. Sure we talked about roller skating too, but food was the most important thing as far as we were concerned. P.S. Roller skating is really hard to talk about in French.
- Never Talk While Eating Which means take small bites so your dinner guest doesn’t have to wait.
- Petit Courses Each course was small and beautiful and we were given ample time before the next course would arrive. It was more like a special occasion and less like trying to scarf down an entire plate of stroganoff before my body would realize it was full (as I so often did at home!)
- Impeccable Eating Manors They ate everything with a fork and knife. My papa slapped himself in the forehead the first time I tried to pick up a French fry with my hand. Admittedly that was one of his favorite ways of communicating with me, but it worked, I used a fork.
- DO NOT under any circumstances put another bite in your mouth before you’ve finished the first one This one is so key I can’t believe it isn’t common sense. Put a tiny little bite in your mouth, set down the fork and knife and enjoy what you are eating until you have swallowed it in its entirety. ONLY THEN can you pick up your fork and knife again and start preparing your next bite. Repeat.
- Eat, Talk, THAT’S IT No reading, driving, standing up, watching TV, or looking at a computer while eating. That is sacrilege! I don’t care what you are eating, if you are doing anything other than eating and enjoying your company, you aren’t enjoying it. If you aren’t enjoying what you are eating then WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?! A little over dramatic, but you get my point.
- The Half Rule Only ever eat half of what is on your plate. Then chat and sip on your wine. If still feel hungry after a good 5 minutes not eating and there isn’t more food coming, then eat half of the remaining food on your plate. Slowly.
- Never Water, Only Wine I was expected to have sufficiently hydrated myself throughout the day because I was only allowed to drink wine with dinner. Water isn’t good for the digestion, I was told. My first night at the table I got super drunk thanks to not knowing this rule. I was thirsty!! I also spoke way better French that night. Or so I thought.
- Digestion Comes First The French were super into digestion. I can’t tell you how many times I was told to do or not do something for the sake of digestion. In fact, there were many rumors buzzing about that if a French person didn’t have their morning bowel movement, a sick day from work would be required. Maybe always keeping yourself in check is a good thing. We almost always had prunes for dessert. Good for the digestion!
It’s amazing what these principles have done for me. Of course there are more, and they are all in my favorite book French Women Don’t Get Fat so you should totally read it. I’ve said it before, it will change your life.
Don’t worry, I did get my revenge on papa. My last week there I asked them to let me cook for them. I made them tacos. Ridiculously expensive tacos I might add since hard-shell tacos are really hard to find. Then I giggled inside as I watched my host dad try to eat a hard-shell taco with a fork and knife. They did it. But it was amusing nonetheless.Read More
Have you been as crazed as I have looking at all the completely different, yet scientifically justified diets out there? It’s a bit insane to tell one from another, and they all recirculate throughout the years with new names to further confuse you. The best food advice I ever got was from my mom’s doc in Oregon:
Eat the rainbow, Get 15 minutes of sunshine daily, drink as much pure water as you can, and think moderation when it comes to wheat, corn, and soy. (Humans have messed with them too much!)
I love the idea of eating the rainbow and ever since I heard this advice, I have seen confirmation of it everywhere! Fruits and veggies get their beautiful colors from the same nutrients that make us healthy and happy and keep us disease free. In fact, many studies will even go so far as to suggest that if people simply ate more veggies, cancer wouldn’t even exist! (Robb Wolf). So each week I trot off to the farmers market (or Whole Foods in winter) and pick up fruits and veggies in every color. Then I come home and look up the veggies on epicurious.com to see what fantastic meals I can make with them. That makes for 7 days of delicious and healthy meals that I don’t have to stress over.
My absolute favorite read about the pleasures of food and healthy living is “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” Whether
your goals include weight loss, or just a healthy lifestyle, this book is a great read and gives you a passion and respect for all of the beautiful things that we put on our plates each meal. Not to mention it promotes a healthy relationship with food, which, quite frankly, many of us didn’t have the fortune of growing up with. Since 100% of our food habits are learned, if you didn’t get good habits from your parents, might as well get them from Mireille Guiliano, the author of the book. Not only is Mireille svelte and beautiful as a woman in her mid-50′s, she is an empowering woman who was a long time spokesperson for Champagne Veuve Clicquot and former President and CEO of the French wine company Clicquot, Inc. (LVMH). Her website is jubilant with a strong message of passion and enjoyment, not restriction and suffering. http://frenchwomendontgetfat.com/content/about-mireille
Real Simple also has a great article about beautifully colorful and nutricious foods. http://www.realsimple.com/health/nutrition-diet/healthy-eating/the-30-healthiest-foods-00000000051152/index.html
Hope you enjoy these resources as much as I did! Remember, the more beautiful your plate is, the more nutritious the meal is! And try something new! There are so many beautiful fruits and vegetables that I haven’t even tried yet. Last week I had my friend teach me how to eat a Mango, and since then, I have eaten three of them! You never know if a new fruit might become your favorite. Living should be enjoyable, and with the simple advice of my mom’s doc, you can enjoy your life, and love what you eat!Read More